Valid and Invalid Marriage in North Carolina

Valid and Invalid Marriage

Marriage is regulated at the state level in the United States. Earlier this year, North Carolina voters amended the state constitution to define marriage solely as the union of “one man and one woman.” The North Carolina General Assembly previously adopted legislation declaring same-sex marriages performed outside the state invalid in North Carolina.

Aside from requiring partners of opposite genders, North Carolina generally recognizes marriages of all persons over the age of 18. Persons under the age of 18 may legally marry with parental consent or, in some cases, as young as 14 with a court order. A bride and groom must also not be close blood relatives—that is, they can’t be siblings or first cousins—otherwise the marriage is void under state law.

A marriage is also invalid if one of the parties is already married to another person. Bigamy is a felony in North Carolina punishable by imprisonment. However, it is not bigamy if a person remarries after the continuous absence (and presumed death) of the prior spouse for at least seven years.

All marriages performed in North Carolina must be licensed by a county register of deeds. A marriage license costs $60. The couple-to-be must appear before the register of deeds—or one partner can appear in person with a notarized affidavit from the other partner—and certify they are of legal age and otherwise qualified to marry.

After receiving a license, the marriage must be solemnized before either “an ordained minister of any religious denomination” or a civil magistrate, who is a judicial officer of the district court for a particular county. A magistrate charges $20 for performing a civil ceremony. Regardless of whether a civil or religious ceremony is used, there must be at least two witnesses. North Carolina does not recognize common law marriages; the license and ceremony are required to create a valid marriage.

Following the ceremony, the minister or magistrate has ten days to return a marriage license, signed by him or her and the two witnesses, to the register of deeds. Couples can obtain certified copies of their marriage license from the register for $10 each. Certified copies are necessary, for instance, if the bride wishes to change her name with the Social Security Administration or the Department of Motor Vehicles.